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Tales of a Museum Tour Guide

Circulation desk

Natalie knows she can always find a friendly face in the Watson Library. Here, Natalie talks with Supervising Circulation Technician Ron Fein. All photos by the author

Over 1,300 volunteers work in various departments throughout the Museum, including the nearly 400 who conduct tours for the Met's many visitors. These tour guides rely heavily on the Met's libraries for their research. One of these extraordinary guides, Natalie DeVoe, has been a Museum volunteer since 2002. I recently sat down with Natalie to discuss her time here at the Met, and especially how she uses the libraries to conduct research for her tours.


Taking advantage of the latest in book-scanner technology, Natalie makes a scan that she'll be able to email to herself and consult from home.

Natalie actually began her time at the Met working for the Director's Office, where she learned how the Museum functions as an institution. Today, she leads tours of several of the Museum's collections, including Hindu and Buddhist Visions in Indian and Southeast Asian Art, The Cradle of Civilization: Art of the Ancient Near East, and Arts of the Islamic World. She will also be leading tours of the Nasreen Mohamedi exhibition at The Met Breuer when it opens in March.

After a career in publishing, Natalie became a Museum docent (on top of enjoying her time as a grandmother). Her extensive travels in Asia gave her a solid background on the region's art, which helps to inform the tours she gives today. She is able to translate her firsthand experiences with the arts of Asia so that visitors can better understand the objects as they were originally meant to be viewed. Natalie makes it a point to focus on the objects—what you can tell about it just by looking—rather than simply providing a lecture about each piece.


On her tours of the South and Southeast Asian Art galleries, Natalie explains how Hindu and Buddhist artists had to give "form to the formless" when depicting gods and goddesses.

Natalie conducts much of her research here in the Museum's libraries, but also uses the resources available at the New York Public Library. In our discussion, Natalie said that "libraries are one of the most valuable tools we have." She generally begins her research by using books and journal articles published by the Met, and as a Museum volunteer, she has the opportunity to attend small-group lectures by curators—including a recent and especially informative talk by Maryam Ekhtiar, an associate curator in the Department of Islamic Art, on Islamic calligraphy. And she knows if she ever has any questions on researching objects in the Museum's collection, the librarians are happy to assist her; in fact, she told me that she thinks librarians are "the most helpful group of people in the Museum."

Reference collection

While browsing Watson Library's Reference Collection, Natalie, a lifelong New Yorker, was pleased to come across The Encyclopedia of New York City.

Thanks for your dedication, Natalie! The library staff look forward to helping you and other researchers the next time you're here.

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